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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 242

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (6.40 p.m.) —The Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Bill is an omnibus bill. Senator Tambling has outlined its full implications, and I imagine that it will go through reasonably quickly tonight. I will not hold it up for very long. However, given my interest in one or two areas to which this bill refers, I would like to make a few comments.

  With regard to changes to the Quarantine Act 1908, this is just another example of things not being right, accounting-wise, within AQIS. That is of concern to all of us, and it has been for quite some time. Senators may well remember that a number of years ago—Senator Tambling has already referred to this—a situation arose where a fee for service was varied significantly and the quarantine service tried to sell some of the animals it held in quarantine to offset costs owed to it by the importer of the animals. The coalition, with the assistance of the Australian Democrats, stopped the action, but it highlighted at the time—and it reminds us now—just how sloppy AQIS is and has been in terms of accounting and accountability.

  The amendments outlined in this bill will provide for late payments, booking fees and deposits, and other processing and accounting charges. Many were recommended in the Auditor-General's report No. 35, which contained a number of criticisms of AQIS and its financial management. Other aspects of the inefficiencies of AQIS were highlighted by Senator O'Chee and me last year at the estimates and elsewhere. Much of what we argued involved sloppy accounting and a poor cost recovery ethos. This legislation covers some of the many reforms that AQIS desperately needs to make it efficient and accountable.

  Changes to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act will give more time for the states to pass complementary legislation necessary for the ag and vet code to become operational.

  The changes to the Rural Adjustment Act merely relate to the annual reporting arrangements. Much needs to be done to the rural assistance scheme, which this government continually seems to put in the too-hard basket. It is no surprise, therefore, that the reference moved by Senator Boswell, the National Party leader in this place, to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs to examine RAS has been taken up. Our complaints about RAS—how it could work, how it should work, but what it does not deliver—are well founded. The inquiry, which has now called for submissions, will be interesting.

  I am confident that, when the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs has finished its examination, more appropriate changes will be recommended that will allow RAS to operate as it was intended. I have no desire to delay the Senate any longer in debate on this bill, but I would urge that with both the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the rural adjustment scheme the government should take on board the many serious complaints levelled by the rural community about these two government agencies.